340 B. POLEVOI "So do I," he answered with a genial smile. "And Struchkov, where is he now?" "I don't know. The last letter I had from him was in the winter, from somewhere near Velikiye Luki." "And that tankman, what's his name?" "You mean Grisha Gvozdev? He's a major now. He took part in the famous battle at Prokhorovka, and later in the tank break-through in the Kursk Salient. We were in action in the same area, but we did not meet. He is in command of a tank regiment. He hasn't written for some time now, I don't know why. But never mind. We'll find each other if we live through the war. But, then, why shouldn't we___Well, now! Let's get some sleep! The night's gone!" He blew out the light and the dugout was immersed in semi-darkness; in the dim, grey light of the frowning dawn we could hear the droning of mosquitoes, which perhaps, were the only inconvenience in this splendid habitation in the woods. "I would very much like to write about you in the Pravda" I said. "That's up to you to decide," answered the airman with no particular enthusiasm. And then, very sleepily, he added: "But perhaps you'd better not. Goebbels will get hold of the story and trumpet all over the world that the Russians are compelling footless men to fight, and that sort of thing.... You know what those fascists are." A moment later he was snoring lustily. But I could not sleep. The simplicity and grandeur of this confession had thrilled me. It might have been a beautiful fable were not the hero of the story sleeping right opposite me and his artificial feet lying on the ground glistening with moisture and distinctly visible in the grey light of dawn. I did not meet Alexei Maresyev for a long time after that, but wherever the tide of war carried me I had with me the two school exercise books in which near Orel I had recorded the remarkable odyssey of this airman. How many times during the war, during the lull and after, when travelling through the countries of liberated Europe, did I start writing my story about him, but put it aside because all that I succeeded in writing seemed but a pale shadow of his real life!